Mari Ness Posts World Fantasy Report and a New Personal Policy

In “World Fantasy Convention 2015 – Disability and Accessibility”, author and Tor.com blogger Mari Ness tells in narrative form the frustrations she shared with her Twitter audience last weekend while trying to participate in WFC as a wheelchair user.

[Unfortunately] this is not the first disability/accessibility problem I have had with conventions, or the first time a convention has asked/agreed to have me on programming and then failed to have a ramp that allows me to access the stage.  At least in this case it wasn’t a Disability in Science Fiction panel that, incredibly enough, lacked a ramp, but against that, in this case, the conrunners were aware I was coming, were aware that I use a wheelchair, had spoken to me prior to the convention and had assured me that the convention would be fully accessible, and put me on panels with stages but no ramp.

Ness says that in the future her policy will be to attend only conventions that satisfy two conditions:

  • Offer an accessibility statement on the convention website, and/or a written statement to me guaranteeing disability access, and offering specifics about that disability access.
  • Provide access ramps to stages.

Ness concludes: “I am, granted, only a very small voice in fandom, but I’m a very small voice that can no longer use my money and time to support conventions that cannot take the time to ensure that I can fully participate in the con.”

People have tweeted support for her announcement.

46 thoughts on “Mari Ness Posts World Fantasy Report and a New Personal Policy

  1. Given how “The Greying of Fandom” has been an issue for four decades at least, you would think that conventions would have made more strides towards accessibility by now.

  2. That’s a completely reasonable and understandable request and it’s sad that she has to make it under these circumstances.

  3. There is the matter of cost. How much are con attendees willing to pay for this service? You may demand so many services that you can’t afford to attend conventions anymore.

  4. In the US, if the con is at an ADA-compliant facility, everything needed to meet physical access requests should be available. Now, if the facility charges the convention extra for it, that’s a matter of contract negotiation…

  5. Milt Stevens” While Interpreters might be an added cost, any hotel SHOULD already have the supplies to comply with requests as basic as a ramp, and many areas used to conventions should have AV materials that can be repurposed.

    I agree that money becomes an unfortunate consideration at the far end, but frankly, what Mari Ness is asking for is not accommodation for esoteric conditions on the rare end of the spectrum of disability. Wheelchair access, especially known in advance, is pretty much the bare bones.

    Within my local con of a whopping 400 people most years, I have at least 3 friends who are in some way disabled. But that leaves me thinking; would I really want to go to a con which said, “You’ve been part of us for 20 years, but now you can’t always walk (or hear, or see, or whatever came to pass), we don’t want you anymore….” ?

  6. Because everybody knows that the HIGH PRICE of cons is totally driven by those DRWs (Disability Rights Warriors) demanding all those SPECIAL privileges that the normal folk just don’t need, amirite, Milt? (/sarcasm).

  7. Milt, if a con can’t afford to make itself accessible for all its members I think it needs to take a good hard look at its priorities.

    Starting with using ADA-complaint facilities in the first place, carrying that into contractual agreements about accessibility with the facility, and then going on with those bare bones basics from there.

    And publishing the Committee and staff list on the web site, in the program book, and in many other easily accessible places. That’s a basic part of holding cons accountable for bad choices.

  8. robinreid on November 11, 2015 at 8:53 am said:
    Because everybody knows that the HIGH PRICE of cons is totally driven by those DRWs (Disability Rights Warriors) demanding all those SPECIAL privileges that the normal folk just don’t need, amirite, Milt? (/sarcasm).

    The first con I might have attended cost $2 at the door, and it was a worldcon. I took a lot of heat for a worldcon that charged $10 at the door. We are rapidly approaching a time when worldcons will cost $200 at the door. Some of that is inflation, but fans also want something more every year.

    What do you suppose would happen if there wasn’t food in the con suite. The SFWA suite wants food and an open bar as well. How about free child care? Then there was the matter of free WiFi. At Sasquan, I heard a person is line complain that if the concom wasn’t so cheap they would deliver registration packets to your hotel room, and you wouldn’t have to stand in line. After all, computers ought to be able to do that.

    Everything costs something. When you ask for something new think about where the money is going to come from.

  9. Milt Stevens on November 11, 2015 at 9:23 am said:

    What do you suppose would happen if there wasn’t food in the con suite.

    There wasn’t food in the con suite at LoneStar Con 2, the World Science Fiction Convention in 1997 as I recall, just a few bags of chips.

    It was the first SFF convention I had ever attended that did not have food in the con suite.

    Clearly, I still remember the experience.

  10. ULTRAGOTHA on November 11, 2015 at 8:56 am said:
    And publishing the Committee and staff list on the web site, in the program book, and in many other easily accessible places. That’s a basic part of holding cons accountable for bad choices.

    That idea really sucks. People do things for you for free, and you propose punishing them if they don’t do what you want. That attitude will lead to the end of fan run conventions. If you want to go to a con, go to Dragoncon. I doubt they care what you think about anything.

  11. Milt Stevens: Mr. Stevens, I would point out that what Ms. Ness refers to is the fact that she was a scheduled participant on more than one panel and that the panels were on a raised stage/platform which was inaccessible because she’s in a wheelchair-one which the conrunners were well aware of and had assured her the con would be fully accessible.

    I’d say that when she’s on a panel but cannot join that panel because there’s no ramp available and she’s in a wheelchair, she has a very good point.

  12. Sometimes it costs a little extra to treat people fairly. It is, in my opinion, worth it.

    If the hotel is ADA compliant, wheelchair accommodations won’t be one of those times, and so extra cost is irrelevant.

  13. Dragoncon already has an ADA-compliant statement up on its webpage. I won’t try to link to it, because I’m lousy at linking, but it’s there. (Not commenting on how complete it is, but I would have been very surprised not to find it . . . since Dragoncon is a large commercial enterprise, they’ve got to be aware of the minimum services that large commercial enterprises are supposed to offer.)

    As has already been point out, fan-volunteer run cons are generally at sites that are already ADA-compliant, for the most part. It’s just a matter of the hotel liaison informing the hotel of the conventions needs . . . and maybe he con being a bit savvy about scheduling. I honestly don’t see how that could raise the price of a con all that much, given what the volunteers currently do.

    As for sign language interpreters–yes, that might cost money. But I can see a con soliciting volunteers for that service, too. For a cash-strapped con, it would at least be worth considering, I’d say.

  14. Oh, good grief, Milt. Volunteer-run cons publish their committee and staff lists all the time. It’s a point of pride for the volunteers.

    And I think that committee and staff that do a good job should be publicly thanked. And those that screw up should be known so fans can make decisions about which cons they want to skip.

    I think it’s especially important for committees that bid to hold movable cons, such as World Fantasy. If fans are voting for where to hold the next convention, they need to know who is going to run it.

    It’s not a matter of punishment, for Ghu’s sake! It’s a matter of accountability and information for the fans. I don’t ever want to attend a con where the people responsible for Accessibility at WFC are running accessibility. I don’t ever want to attend a con where the people responsible for the code of conduct at WFC are running ops. (DOES anyone know who those people are or what other cons have them on their committees?) I want to know that information for my own choices in deciding where to spend my money and vacation time.

    I doubt fans declining to go to cons run by people who can make such screw ups as WFC did will result in the demise of fan-run conventions. It may result in the decline of World Fantasy Con. Hopefully what will happen, though, is more competent fans volunteering.

    Not telling fans who ran what just results in suspicion of ALL cons. That’s far more likely to cause a demise than holding badly run con coms accountable.

  15. We’re working on getting the Accessibility Checklist used at SFWA events like the Nebulas up on the SFWA website so cons have it to use. It’s not a complex document.

    We should be working on this, if only for the able-bodied to protect our older selves on their tiny scooters. I’m looking out for future Cat. Her knees hurt in cold weather.

  16. That idea really sucks. People do things for you for free, and you propose punishing them if they don’t do what you want. That attitude will lead to the end of fan run conventions.

    No fan run con would ever publish the names of its con committee. Oh wait. I’m sure that’s just an aberration. Oh, I guess not. Maybe it is just a Maryland thing. Except this.

  17. Folks — the US government requires that ALL hotels, convention centers and the like be ADA compliant. If they aren’t, then no Federal employee or group of employees will be permitted to use those facilities when traveling or for meetings.

    Any facility worth its salt will have a ramp for every stage they own — and they’re NOT supposed to charge extra for making their facilities accessible. In actuality, most have baked those costs into the over-all fees. There is NO excuse for the concom (especially whoever was in charge of Programming) not making sure this was in place.

  18. The convention I help work on, Windycon (fan-run, in suburban Chicago this coming weekend, come join us; we have Christopher Moore as the writer guest of honor) publishes the complete list of concom and staffers every year in the program book. Recognition is the way you pay volunteers.

  19. One of the people I referred to as disabled at our local con is relatively newly so. has been in and out of wheelchairs for about 3 years now (Before that, it was “only” his wife, not much of a con-goer, who was).

    He’s RUN the convention. He’s on ConCom right now. He’s a book dealer, too.

    Again, is this the person to whom you say, “Sorry, it costs too much to let you in.”

    (And as far as I can tell, the hotel has everything it needs in place, though there are a couple of rooms, including the big one for the masquerade and opening/closing ceremonies, that are down odd levels and require an extra elevator in a corner or the like to reach. But there are ramps as much for costumers as for him, and I’ve never failed to see him on stage when needed, or in the room watching.)

    I think any con has a vested interest in accessibility.

  20. Cassy B –

    we have Christopher Moore as the writer guest of honor

    Aw man, I wish I could, I’d love to get that guys autograph someday and to see if he’s as fun in person as he is in writing.

  21. Is SFWA likely to mind if its list gets copied over to an institutional knowledge repository for cons to make it findable by more people

    Not at ALL. I want to see it used as much as possible. Accessibility is going to be a criteria for me in deciding what cons to attend from this point forward.

    Making things available is why we also put up a harassment policy and procedures doc (http://www.sfwa.org/2011/11/sfwa-statement-on-sexual-harassment/). People are very welcome to use that as well.

  22. I guess I’ve imagined all those lists of staff in the program book at every Worldcon, Westercon, Baycon, Loscon, SiliCon, Timecon, and Con-volution I’ve been to, then. And on the webpage when we got into that era. You’ve been around way longer than I have, Milt — haven’t you ever looked at the colorful shiny book they give you at registration over the past 50 years? Aren’t you IN some of them?

    Not having a harassment policy sucks; not being ADA-compliant sucks and is ILLEGAL.

    Hotels and convention centers own the equipment. The con just has to ask for it.

    In Mari’s case, they can’t even claim ignorance. She told them about it, and they straight-up LIED to her about how they were going to take care of it.

    Whatever organization ran this WFC (Saratoga-something?) needs to never be allowed to run a WFC, Worldcon, or other movable/regional cons again until there’s a thorough overhaul. Between Harassment FAIL, Disability FAIL, and “Miscegenation/Cheesecake Speech” FAIL, they’re just incompetent. No con should hire their ops people.

    (The gofers were probably okay, but they don’t set policy.)

  23. Xtifr on November 11, 2015 at 10:41 am said:
    While I think this is a great idea, my sympathy for these people is somewhat lessened by the fact that if they’d supported the “No Conventions Without a Firm Anti-Harrassment Policy” movement, they wouldn’t have been at this convention in the first place! 🙂

    That said, with some luck, we may be able to encourage more people to support both policies.

    Something about this attitude seems unseemly to me. It smacks a little of pitting victims of different prejudices against each other.

  24. lurkertype on November 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm said:

    … “Miscegenation/Cheesecake Speech” FAIL …

    Wait. What?

  25. Peace: The comments on the LJ (by our own JD Nicoll) explain it all. Miscegenation, a picture of an almost-nude woman, making fun of Pagans, speculation on the future sexual attractiveness of the Gaiman/Palmer infant…

  26. lurkertype on November 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm said:
    I guess I’ve imagined all those lists of staff in the program book at every Worldcon, Westercon, Baycon, Loscon, SiliCon, Timecon, and Con-volution

    Yes, having a committee list available is a convenience. However, I haven’t previously seen the suggestion that such lists should be used as a source for reprisals against concom members who don’t do what you want.

  27. However, I haven’t previously seen the suggestion that such lists should be used as a source for reprisals against concom members who don’t do what you want.

    It is interesting that you interpreted “accountability” as “reprisals”. That says more about you than you think.

  28. I thought half the point of such lists was to know who to talk to if something went wrong.

    Having someone who can be talked to and told, “You screwed this up” isn’t reprisal, as far as I know. It’s basic communication. Nobody was saying punish them, they were saying, we know they fouled it up badly, we can contact them about it and/or check their other work in future.

    Sounds like standard business practice to me.

  29. @Milt Stevens

    Well, from my point of view, as a disabled person, it doesn’t really matter if the convention is slightly more expensive if my ability to access it is considered, because the cheaper but inaccessible convention is, well… Inaccessible. I can’t go to it.

    I cannot possibly express how tired I am of hearing that my ability to do things is too expensive and inconvenient. Well, shucks, I’m dealing with expenses and inconveniences every damn day of my life. Poor convention runners for having to care for a little while.

  30. When I was the back-up caretaker for my elderly, mobility-impaired mother I found that while most places will swear their accessible to people in wheelchairs you really have to verify for yourself: more than once I’ve come across “just the one” step that defeats the whole accessibility claim. What cons need is someone familiar with accessibility issues (and mobility is just the most obvious one) who will walk through the facility and verify that accessibility requirements are met. Accomodating hearing and vision impaired attendees may be more difficult: cons need disability advocates (or whatever you want to call them) to make sure this gets attention.

    The US ADA has some outs: I know of several restaurants back East that are not accessible to mobility-impaired patrons because they were built in the 19th century and claim it’s a hardship to retrofit. This does not apply to most post-1990 facilities, though, although sometimes they have to be reminded.

  31. What do you suppose would happen if there wasn’t food in the con suite. The SFWA suite wants food and an open bar as well. How about free child care? Then there was the matter of free WiFi.

    No food in the con suite at British con – in fact, no con suite. HOWEVER, we have free beers for panel participants. Priorities 😉

  32. Many, many, accommodations that make conventions easier cost almost no money at all (though they do tend to cost labor, which is a finite resource). Wide aisles in panel rooms and dealer’s rooms, “cut out” parking spaces for wheelchairs and scooters, are examples of this. Having policies that help people who cannot stand in line for long periods of time can run from having a shorter priority line for those attendees, having chairs available along the line area, or having reserved seats, so they can just walk in at the end, after the line dissipates are all ways to help that cost no money. Electronic versions of print materials work very well for many people who are blind or have low visions. (and make your website accessible). (and there’s more, but you gotta buy me a drink or a cup of coffee if you want the whole show… 🙂 )

    People on this comment list are making a lot of assumptions though, about what hotels/conference centers have, and the degree to which they are actually compliant with the ADA. Some of these places, well, they gamble, that no one will ask for a ramp. That the lawsuit, or settlement that they may or may not face down the line will be less expensive than the cost of buying, storing and maintaining equipment they don’t expect to use. Others comply by having a contract with a preferred vendor, who can supply the service you need (at a significant expense, I see this with assistive listening systems), passing the cost of compliance on to event holder (which may be fine for corporate events….).

    Access isn’t something you plan for a month before your event. It’s best if it is part of your plan from the beginning, with your hotel/venue search. Plan assuming you will have people with disabilities attending and ask about ramps, when you ask about the stages. Ask about Assistive Listening Systems, and how they might work with your equipment when you ask about the other technology in a venue. Asking early may also pressure them into getting the equipment… which is a help not only to you, but any other fan groups who may use the venue.

  33. @Milt Stevens wrote: The SFWA suite wants food and an open bar as well.

    Not directly relevant to this conversation, but SFWA pays for the suite and the food and drink in it. Cons often provide event space for meetings, though.

    More relevant: the SFWA Accessibility Checklist is now publicly available: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/public-relations/accessibility-checklist-for-sfwa-spaces/

    (I had a hand in putting it together and I’m pretty happy with it, but we’re always open to suggestions for improvement.)

  34. Matthew, I’m really liking this accessibility checklist, a lot! The inclusion of specific measurements is a very good touch, the kind of thing that helps people unfamiliar with the field anchor themselves.

    Minor addition, possibly: 2.E. Check that the public transportation is also handicapped-accessible, since not all is.

  35. On Twitter, someone was mentioning lighting issues; I asked them to mail us something more detailed than permitted by the 140 character limit.

    If a checklist that better serves people comes out of the discussion, yay and huzzah; I remain saddened that Mari keeps having to be the one to say WTF? about these things.

  36. I doubt she’s the only one. She just appears to be one inclined to make noise about it as often as needed. Speaking for myself, I just put my head down and bull my way through as best I can, because there are only so many more battles I have in me at my age. It takes someone special to decide, “Enough is enough!” and climb the pulpit with a bullhorn.

    As I said in another post somewhere on one of the threads here, I’ve been at this dance a long time and my legs are getting tired. I’m just grateful Ms. Ness is still at it.

  37. @Tanya: Yes, totally yes.

    Too many facilities don’t own ramps to provide ADA-compliant access to the risers they own. And ADA-compliant ramps take up a lot of space (1′ of run for every inch of rise, minimum widths, minimum landing/turnaround sizes, minimum railings).

    Too many facilities turn accessibility into an ala carte profit center, instead of making it part of their baseline services.

    And too many facilities don’t realize that it’s not the convention organizers who are going to get sued over non-compliance, because anyone paying attention knows the facilities have deep pockets convention organizers don’t.

  38. io9 has an article on the pledge to not attend cons without a disability policy and some quotes from the Chair of WFC 2015.

    I reached out to Joseph T. Berlant, the chair of this year’s World Fantasy Convention, and he responded that Ness’ problems were “the only incident reported” at the convention. He added that the convention tried to address disability issues by sending all attendees a questionnaire “which, among other things, asked if there was anything the Convention needed to know about them.” He admits the questionnaire did not ask about disability issues, and this was an oversight.

    Adds Berlant:

    Assuming that members of relevant committees actually know the needs of an individual member will not guarantee that relevant people know individual needs. Perhaps a committee should prepare for any contingency. That is not what the law requires and would cause conventions fees to be astronomical.

  39. @ULTRAGOTHA

    Thanks for the link.

    I’m trying not to make assumptions from a fairly short statement but… That all felt a bit Did Not Consider Did It beforehand and Still Doesn’t Get It in the aftermath. Perhaps brevity and my own bias is getting in the way of congenial understanding.

  40. It struck me as extraordinarily defensive and deflective in tone and substance. But then, I’m in 4502, where there are STILL buildings with stairs and no elevators, so what do I know?

  41. There was this bit, too:

    Berlant actually knows Ness, but wasn’t aware she was on any programming. And when the convention’s Facility Division was notified of Ness’ problems (after the first panel), they “checked into resolving the issue” and found that “the cost of doing so on short notice was prohibitive.” Berlant adds that the solution of having everyone on the floor with Ness “was elegant,” and he’s disappointed none of his people thought of it. The hotel and other facilities were, by and large, accessible, says Berlant, except for a few bathrooms in the convention center that had to be closed.

    It doesn’t really help.

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